Guide to Moral Living in Examples: King of Deceit

Ridley sharpened his sword by the dying light of his campfire. The embers shone in the smooth edge. The remains of his dinner had been flung into the woods. He got up, stretched, and laid out his woolen bedroll on the soft carpet of the spring forest.

The next day he quit the woods and saw, on the other end of the rolling plains, the castle of the King of Deceit atop a cliff. It was made of stones the color of alabaster and flowering vines crawled over tresses of exquisite design.

Over a journey of several days, he arrived at the castle only to see a thriving town bustling outside of its gates.

"Excuse me," Ridley said, stopping a friendly-looking peasant.

"Huh, milord," the peasant said, giving a bow.

"I am not your lord, but I wonder who is."

"Why, do you not know who dwells in the castle beyond?"

"I thought I did, but my memory has failed from days of travel."

"The good King of Truth!"

A nearby peasant walking behind a wheelbarrow said 'huzzah!' as he heard the name.

Two men-at-arms walked through the crowd towards Ridley and the peasant.

"Do you go by the name Ridley? Are you the son of Joseph?"

"I am," Ridley said.

"The lord of the castle would like to see you."

"I will not surrender my weapon, for it is unique in its kind."

"The lord has not requested that you be parted from it," the man-at-arms said.

Ridley thought that this was strange, but followed the men-at-arms into the castle and into the largest, tallest tower. The tower faced the cliff and plains, so that it had enormous windows since no archer could send a volley this high. Far in the distance, Ridley imagined that he could see his town in the haze as he walked past the window.

They paused in front of a massive set of golden doors, inlaid with rubies, and a pair of servants pulled them open.

The king sat in the throne opposite the door and motioned Ridley to enter.

Ridley strode up to him, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword.

"Are you the King of Deceit?"

"Definitely not," replied the king. "Are you Ridley, son of Joseph?"

"Yes."

"Then you are the one in the prophecy who will slay the King of Deceit. He has recently left."

"Oh, has he?" Ridley said.

"Yes. He abdicated his throne and I have taken over."

"And who are you?"

"The King of Truth."

"What would the King of Deceit tell me?"

"He would say that he is the King of Truth."

"Then you are the King of Truth. Where has he gone?"

"Into the land known as the Bramble Patch."

"Then I will pursue him there."

And for twenty days and twenty nights Ridley pursued him into the Bramble Patch. He returned with his sword unsullied by anything but the thick sap of the bramble branches and his skin a patchwork of bramble scratches.

"He eluded me."

"My observers indicate that he's travelled into the Outlands of Stench."

"Then I will pursue him there."

And for twenty days and twenty nights Ridley pursued him into the Outlands of Stench. He returned with his sword tarnished by the foul air and he gasped in fresh air as he re-entered the throne room.

"He eluded me."

"My observers indicate that he's travelled into the Marshes of Soggy Boots."

"Then I will pursue him there."

And for twenty days and twenty nights Ridley pursued him into the Marshes of Soggy Boots. He returned with his sword caked with mud and his boots so soggy that the men-at-arms had tied several canvas bags on them so that he wouldn't ruin the carpet.

"Found him," Ridley said.

The king started.

"You did? Where?"

"In the depths of the Marshes of the Soggy Boots."

"Well, um, good for you! You are a hero for slaying the King of Deceit!"

"I didn't find the King of Deceit in the Marshes of Soggy Boots. I found the King of Truth. And he explained something to me. You're the King of Deceit, not the King of Lies. You can tell the truth as long as I'm deceived. Remember a few months ago when I asked you what the King of Deceit would tell me his name was? You told the truth. You aren't bound to always lie or to always tell the truth. You're the sneakiest kind of bastard because you can't be relied upon to be consistent."

With that, Ridley pulled out his sword and beheaded the King of Deceit. With the King's spell broken, the illusions and grandeur of the castle dissolved to a run-down, rat-infested ruin.

Ridley emerged from the castle and was immediately mobbed by the peasants, including the fellow whom he had questioned months ago.

"My wife got one good look at me and ran off! Murderer!"

After a show trial that was full of lies and half-truths, Ridley was banished from the kingdom forever.

The Moral: an unexamined quest is a quest half-done, and usually a good time to examine it is after you've been sent into a place with "stench" in the name.

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